Just eleven days removed from the hugely anticipated interim title fight between Nick Diaz and Carlos Condit comes a match up that has all the ingredients to fulfill what many onlookers felt that contest sorely missed, as the always aggressive Diego “The Dream” Sanchez (23/4) faces rising welterweight powerhouse Jake “The Juggernaut” Ellenberger (26/5) at UFC on Fuel TV 1.
Though there may be less riding on the outcome of this main event than that title decider at UFC 143, the implications for the winner of this battle could be huge- A victory for Sanchez would place him firmly back in the title hunt and with linear welterweight champion George Saint Pierre expected to be out of action until at least the Fall, a victorious Jake Ellenberger could conceivably look forward to a potential rematch with interim welterweight champion Carlos Condit or at the very least a fight to determine the next number one contender.
Diego Sanchez has been a mainstay of the sport for the better part of ten years, synonymous with the UFC, the Ultimate Fighter series that it spawned, and most of all, the intensity that he has consistently delivered throughout his career. “The Dream” is a unique character both in and out of the cage and he will believe that at just thirty years of age, despite winning the first Ultimate Fighter series and holding victories over the likes of Kenny Florian and Nick Diaz that his best days inside the octagon still remain firmly in his future.
That self belief will be tested to the limit as he goes up against one of the most dangerous and rapidly improving fighters in the welterweight division- Former US Marine Jake Ellenberger is riding a five fight win streak since a split decision defeat in his UFC debut to now interim welterweight champion Carlos Condit and despite a fledgling career in the UFC the twenty six year old is a veteran of thirty one contests with stand out victories over MMA pioneer Jose Landi-Jons, Mike Pyle and most recently a fifty three second demolition of former Strikeforce middleweight champion Jake Shields.
Ever since Sanchez burst onto the MMA landscape it seemed as though it was his destiny to become a UFC champion. Even after back to back defeats at welterweight to team-mates Jon Fitch and Josh Koscheck he still looked on course to fulfill his ambition, tearing through Joe Stevenson and Clay Guida in quick succession. But that commendable drive and fortitude was not enough to disguise his shortcomings and prevent him being brutally exposed by BJ Penn in their lightweight title fight at UFC 107. After a period of reflection and a long lay off through injury he has begun to claw his way back up the welterweight ladder stringing together two consecutive victories over Paulo Thiago and Martin Kampmann.
In contrast, Ellenberger appears to be maturing and improving at just the right time- Wrestlers can often fall foul of resting on their grappling laurels but the rudimentary striking he relied upon in the earlier part of his career has now developed under the tutelage of Master Raphael Cordeiro at Kings MMA and after finishing four of his past five opponents with strikes he looks ready to make a serious run at the UFC welterweight title.
Sanchez has never been the most technical of strikers- Even in victory over Kampmann the Greg Jackson trained fighter was picked apart on the feet by the Danes superior striking but what he does bring to the cage is a relentless pace that few can match and a fierce determination to impose his will upon any opponent no matter their skill set. Sanchez will relish his underdog status and fight fire with fire, closing the gap early and often whilst aiming to overwhelm Ellenberger and bully his rival back up against the fence.
The problem for Sanchez is that his tenacious approach to fighting may just play into Ellenberger’s very heavy hands and with the “Juggernaut’s” wrestling more than equal to that of his opponent, he could turn Sanchez’s dream chance of another shot at UFC gold back into the nightmare that it once was.
I expect a highly competitive fight, with a dogged Sanchez proving a tougher test than many have predicted but ultimately it will be Ellenberger’s power that will make the difference, with the hometown favorite beating Sanchez by TKO in the third round.